Rare is the football team that can lose its leading rusher during preseason camp and still expect to dominate on the ground.
Arkansas is one such club.
Although the Razorbacks lost Jonathan Williams (1,190 yards, 12 touchdowns in 2014) for the season with a foot injury, but their running game is still in good hands thanks to Alex Collins and a dominant offensive line.
Collins (1,100 yards, 12 touchdowns) is no slouch himself, having turned in similar production to his veteran teammate while sharing carries last season. Now it will be on Arkansas’ star junior back to carry a much larger load and to do so while avoiding the untimely fumbles that damaged Arkansas’ upset bids against Alabama and Missouri last season.
He will unquestionably benefit from the presence of an offensive line that is so good that Arkansas put them on the cover of its 2015 media guide. In tackles Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, guards Sebastian Tretola and Frank Ragnow and center Mitch Smothers, Arkansas has a group of five maulers who average 6-foot-6 and 328 pounds across the board. You could put Williams in behind them to run on one leg and he’d still average 3 or 4 yards per carry.
Thankfully the Razorbacks won’t have to do that. They have a former blue-chip prospect starting behind them in Collins, plus a now-healthy bruiser in junior Kody Walker and a freshman to watch in Rawleigh Williams.
Losing Jonathan Williams is unfortunate, no question, because of his running abilities and leadership, but don’t expect much of a drop-off in the run game so long as the reserves emerge as useful complements to Collins. Arkansas’ rushing production dipped down the stretch last season once Arkansas dove headlong into conference play, and that could happen again unless someone -- likely the 256-pound Walker -- absorbs some of the workload.
Collins is definitely going to get his numbers, and the line should only improve after another season together, but it might be that ability to develop second and third options behind the starter that will determine if Bret Bielema’s running game remains as productive as when it was the Williams-Collins show.